Douglas Hogg, gone but not quite forgotten

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In the past week or so at least three public figures have been shown to be doing wrong with their pets and children.

Jonathan Aitken was prepared to put his daughter on the witness stand to lie for him in court.

The Princess of Wales took her son to see a film he was not old enough to see.

The former US ambassador to Britain confessed on air that he had lied about his dog's age.

Now, you can see at a glance that these three indiscretions do not all have the same grade of horror. Aitken's misuse of his daughter is pretty smelly. Diana's buying a ticket for her son to see a Cert 15 film is pretty mild. Raymond Seitz's revelation on Radio 4 that he had said his dog was 10 years old when he discovered that you couldn't bring 12-year-old dogs into Britain was so sensible that nobody paid any attention to it - indeed, Seitz's purpose was to show us how stupid our quarantine regulations are, and anyone listening to Seitz's tale must have applauded him.

What unites all these three misdeeds - one nasty, one harmless, one praiseworthy - is that they are all against the law, and there was a time when the British would universally condemn anything done against the law, no matter how sensible it was. In fact, the time when the British would support the law lasted till very recently.

We all felt it was very wrong (till very recently) that Spanish fishermen could come over here and take our fish quotas, but because it seemed to be EU law, we went along with it.

We all feel it is very wrong (I hope) that when people knock burglars on the head, the people are sent to jail and the burglars are set free. But if that's the law...

We all feel it is very wrong when pregnant women who have failed to pay their TV licences are sent to prison.

We all feel it is ludicrous that people who take the summer solstice seriously are not allowed to enter Stonehenge.

But it is the law. That is what we British say.

Well, maybe things are changing.

I wonder if a time may not be coming when we start to whisper to ourselves that the law may be an ass, and should be ignored.

I wonder if soon we will not all be asking, out loud, the vital question: "What on earth happened to Douglas Hogg?"

I am sorry. I don't know how that slipped out. This article was nothing to do with Douglas Hogg, and I haven't thought of him for weeks and weeks. But obviously he was preying on my mind, and the question just bubbled up like dirty washing up water.

"What on earth happened to Douglas Hogg?"

There he was, about a year ago, Minister of BSE, the man who personified mad cow disease, John Major's choice to be our agricultural supremo, always on the TV and radio justifying his foolish decisions, universally hated by farmers and public alike, limping along like the last cow across the road at milking time, as familiar a foolish face as Jeffrey Archer or Edwina Currie, and then suddenly - bang! Gone!

Did he lose his seat at the general election? Did he even stand at the election?

I'll tell you the answer.

Who cares?

So, back to the big question, which is this: are the British beginning to lose their respect for the law?

There was a time when the British had so much respect for the law that you could be penalised even when you weren't breaking it.

For instance, I don't think that Diana was actually breaking the law by taking her son to a film above his age, as this was only the recommended age.

For instance, I don't think it is against the law to break the Highway Code, which only has a discretionary, not a mandatory, function.

For instance, I don't think it is actually illegal to go out in the street and shout out loud: "Isn't it wonderful not having Douglas Hogg on our screens every night?"

I'm sorry.

It slipped out again.

I don't know why I have to draw attention to the absence of Douglas Hogg, when it is even nicer to have the absence of Michael Howard, a man so dislikeable that even Tory MPs found him the most unpleasant of all the leadership candidates they were offered.

I think I'll go and see my analyst about all this and come back refreshed tomorrow.

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